The Geminid meteor shower 2012, the final major meteor shower of every year and likely to be the best, peaks overnight Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, and you may be able to see a great show on either side of those dates.
If you liked the Perseids meteor shower 2012 in August, you should love this sky show. NASA reports that the Geminids are a relatively young meteor shower, with the first sightings occurring in the 1830s with rates of about 20 per hour.
Over the decades the rates have increased, regularly spawning between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.
"With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers," Earthsky reports. "Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14."
Here are some viewing tips:
"To best view the meteor shower you need to give your eyes time to dilate," said John Charlesworth, Professor of Physical Sciences at Napa Valley College. He suggests first finding an open field, school yard or even your roof, if you can reach it carefully and take care not to fall.
Once you safely navigate to a prime viewing spot, Charlesworth recommends turning off any light sources, even flashlights, for at least 15 minutes before you gaze skyward.
More tips for viewing, from Earthsky.org:
You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough.
What are the Geminids?
The Geminid meteor shower is named after
the constellation Gemini, which is located in roughly the same point of the night sky where the Geminid meteor shower appears to originate.
Geminids are pieces of debris from 3200 Phaethon, basically a rocky skeleton of a comet that lost most of its meat and skin - its outer covering of ice - after too many close encounters with the sun.
Most meteors meet the Earth's atmosphere, burning up in a brilliant light show, when the planet passes through the tail of a comet as the comet's orbit nears the Earth.
Strangely, the Geminids appear not when a comet's tail swings by, but when the Earth comes in contact with the particles associated with an indistinct, rocky object that doesn't have a tail, detected by NASA in 1983 and named 3200 Phaethon. Scientists speculate that 3200 Phaethon may be a chip from a nearby asteroid.
Are the predictions for the 2012 showers reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.
Your best bet is to go outside at the suggested time - and hope.